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  A Yankee in the Trenches R. Derby Holmes


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For weeks after our first introduction to the tanks they were the chief topic of conversation in our battalion. And, notwithstanding the fact that we had seen the monsters go into action, had seen what they did and the effect they had on the Boche, the details of their building and of their mechanism remained a mystery for a long time.

For weeks about all we knew about them was what we gathered from their appearance as they reeled along, camouflaged with browns and yellows like great toads, and that they were named with quaint names like "Creme de Menthe" and "Diplodocus."

Eventually I met with a member of the crews who had manned the tanks at the battle of High Wood, and I obtained from him a description of some of his sensations. It was a thing we had all wondered about,--how the men inside felt as they went over.

My tanker was a young fellow not over twenty-five, a machine gunner, and in a little estaminet, over a glass of citron and soda, he told me of his first battle.

"Before we went in," he said, "I was a little bit uncertain as to how we were coming out. We had tried the old boats out and had given them every reasonable test. We knew how much they would stand in the way of shells on top and in the way of bombs or mines underneath. Still there was all the difference between rehearsal and the actual going on the stage.

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"When we crawled in through the trapdoor for the first time over, the shut-up feeling got me. I'd felt it before but not that way. I got to imagining what would happen if we got stalled somewhere in the Boche lines, and they built a fire around us. That was natural, because it's hot inside a tank at the best. You mustn't smoke either. I hadn't minded that in rehearsal, but in action I was crazy for a fag.

"We went across, you remember, at eleven, and the sun was shining bright. We were parboiled before we started, and when we got going good it was like a Turkish bath. I was stripped to the waist and was dripping. Besides that, when we begun to give 'em hell, the place filled with gas, and it was stifling. The old boat pitched a good deal going into shell holes, and it was all a man could do to keep his station. I put my nose up to my loop-hole to get air, but only once. The machine-gun bullets were simply rattling on our hide. Tock, tock, tock they kept drumming. The first shell that hit us must have been head on and a direct hit. There was a terrific crash, and the old girl shook all over,--seemed to pause a little even. But no harm was done. After that we breathed easier. We hadn't been quite sure that the Boche shells wouldn't do us in.

"By the time we got to the Boche trenches, we knew he hadn't anything that could hurt us. We just sat and raked him and laughed and wished it was over, so we could get the air."

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A Yankee in the Trenches
R. Derby Holmes

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